Monday, 4 October 2010

Through the Year with Kingsley

Browsing in a local charity shop today, I came across a curious item - a Charles Kingsley Year Book, published by his widow in the 1890s. A handsomely produced volume, it has for each day of the year a quotation from Kingsley's works and, on the facing page, a space for a personal note. In this copy, touchingly, there were pencil-written entries noting 'My wedding day 1913', 'Mother died' etc. Books of this kind were a common form of literery tribute at one time - I remember once coming across an Arthur Wing Pinero(!) year book - and they now serve as a reminder of how hugely popular certain writers were in their day, how big a thing literary fame once was, and, usually, how steeply a reputation can decline in the decades after death. Leaving aside The Water Babies - which lives on as one of those 'much-loved classics' that is seldom actually read in its original form - Kingsley is one of the forgotten Victorians, and his writings for adults are surely unread outside academe (if there). I did once, for some reason, read his Chartist novel, Alton Locke, but it was long ago and I wouldn't recommend it. Yet so popular was Kingsley's Westward Ho! in its day that it gave its name to the Devon town (the only English town with an exclamation mark in its name). There was a hotel there named after him - which he opened himself - and even another Kingsley Hotel in Bloomsbury. I wonder, too, if they had Charles in mind when Mr and Mrs Amis christened their bonny boy Kingsley...
Anyway, I resisted the temptation to buy this curiosity - especially as I had spotted on the same shelf David Cecil's The Stricken Deer or The Life of Cowper, in the modestly handsome 'Crown Constable' edition (1933), complete with ligatured 'ct's and 'st's. They don't make books like that any more - nor are we ever likely to see a Kingsley Amis Year Book (though it mightn't be such a bad idea, come to think...).


  1. I seems to recall reading Hereward as a child. Splendid stuff.

    Kingsley seems most notable today as the provoker of Bl. John Henry Newman's Apologia.

  2. Incidentally, Kingsley also seems to have provoked Bl. John Henry to invent "fisking".

    See the Appendix to the Apologia ("Answer in Detail to Mr. Kingsley's Accusations"):

  3. Sir Watkin, you never cease to astound! Thank you.